Welcome (back) to the Three Episode Test, where contributors give you the low-down on what they're watching from the current simulcast season and why.
Aquarion Logos (sequel)
Streaming on FUNimation
I’m a sucker for Shoji Kawamori, so I find myself watching the latest entry in the Aquarion franchise: Aquarion Logos. The eponymous mecha remains a fixture of the show, as does the concept of pilots merging together, but otherwise there's nothing that ties Logos back to the earlier Aquarion series. Instead, modern-day Earth serves as the backdrop for this super robot mecha show where the staff of an otaku-themed cafe use combining aircraft to battle monsters derived from corrupted kanji. No, I’m not making that up. Did I mention that the cafe is called Shirobaco and also serves as a front for a secret organization? Did I mention the main bad guy throws drug-filled syringes at kanji that turn them into literal mojibake (word monsters)? As you may have guessed, Logos takes it to 11 and rips off the dial in terms of raw wackiness. Logos’ characters have outsized versions of their own personalities, from the protagonist with an almost meta messiah complex, to the cripplingly shy love interest. One of the more interesting aspects of this show is how the heroes defeat the mojibake: by adding strokes to them to create a new kanji. In effect, the heroes provide a response to the problem posed by each monster of the week by solving each of the monsters as if it was a puzzle. It remains to be seen if Logos will have the legs to keep its theme interesting, but I’ll be sticking with it for now.
Food Wars (continuation)
Streaming on Crunchyroll
Against all hope and reason, I stuck with Food Wars, and I haven’t been disappointed. Once the show got past (most of) its gratuitous pandering and focused on the shonen battle aspects of the story, Food Wars became much more palatable. To recap: Soma Yukihira is sent by his father to enroll in the most elite culinary high school in Japan, Toutsuki Gakuen. Toutsuki is basically like Hogwarts for food, with a sprawling, over-the-top campus that seems almost like a country unto itself. By the start of this second season, Soma and the gang have returned from a greuling cooking camp where they learned a great deal about cooking under pressure in a short time. Now the residents of the Polar Star Dormitory must prepare themselves for the upcoming student council elections and almost inevitably more culinary hijinks. With most of the worldbuilding out of the way, the second season has begun laying the groundwork for a larger storyline, and I’m hopeful the show continues to focus less on flesh and more on zany food battles. If you haven’t seen Food Wars yet because of the fan service, I’d suggest you give it a try. The fan service dies down in the later episodes, and underneath it all is a show that really could just stand on the shonen battle-with-food premise.
Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace
Streaming on FUNimation
Let me start by saying I’ve not read any of Rampo Edogawa’s works, so I’m not sure how this adaptation measures up to the source material. So far, this isn’t appointment television for me, but it is interesting enough not to drop all together. The series setup begins when Kobayashi, a young boy who could easily pass for a girl, is framed for the murder of his homeroom teacher. A specially appointed teenage detective named Akechi offers Kobayashi the chance to become his apprentice if he can unmask the true killer. Kobayashi’s pal Hashiba warns him against the idea but decides to support him in his efforts. Kobayashi comes across as almost completely desensitized to his own mortality, allowing himself to be put into situations that would make most rational people panicked if not terrified. Combined with his powers of observation, Kobayashi appears to be emerging as a formidable investigator on par with his mentor Akechi. The first case does a serviceable job of establishing the characters and the macabre, twisted tone of the show, but I didn’t come away from it feeling like I had seen anything that I hadn’t seen in your average episode of the BBC’s Sherlock. My snap reaction immediately brought to mind the Sherlock Holmes reboot, and I can’t help but feel that it inspired the vibe of Rampo Kitan on some level. At any rate, it will be interesting to see how the relationship between Kobayashi, Akechi, and Hashiba develops. That dynamic, combined with the twisted scenarios week to week will keep me watching … at least for now.
Shimoneta: A Boring World Where the Concept of Dirty Jokes Doesn’t Exist
Streaming on FUNimation
It’s like Footloose, but with porn and di*k jokes. OK, so there’s no Kevin Bacon, but otherwise that isn’t too far off. In a not too distant future, Japan’s Diet approves a law that bans anything that could be even mildly construed as sexually explicit or titillating. To enforce the law and ensure upstanding morals, the government outfits the entire populace with collars that monitor speech for foul or sexual language. Ten years after the passage of the law, a terrorist organization named SOX aims to spread sexual freedom by fighting from the shadows to liberate young minds. A young man named Tanukichi becomes swept up in the struggle when he encounters SOX’s leader, a charismatic young female terrorist codenamed Blue Snow. I know it sounds like bad Randian fan fiction, but thankfully it doesn’t take itself seriously. And despite the fact that the humor seems aimed at one’s inner tweenager, the show manages to be genuinely funny at times. Part of what makes it funny, at least to me, is the heavy amount of censoring that takes place in the show. It happens so often that it must be a deliberate attempt to be meta. It’s hard to watch this show and not immediately think of the infamous Bill 156 passed by Tokyo’s Metropolitan Assembly several years ago. Bill 156 imposed strict regulations around what kind of content could be shown in anime and manga, and while its efficacy may be debatable, it’s hard to imagine a work like Shimoneta coming about without its passage. Political origins aside, Shimoneta is fun if you like crude humor censored for comedic effect. I'm sticking with this for now, but if it becomes too pandering for me I'll drop it.
Ushio and Tora
Streaming on Crunchyroll
This reboot of Ushio and Tora will most likely be a source of nostaliga for some older fans, because it’s such an exemplar of what was good (and bad) about 1990s anime. For that reason alone, I’ll be sticking with it. Based on the '90s era manga of the same name, Ushio and Tora is the story of a boy and his demon. After discovering a secret basement in his family’s shrine, Ushio Aotsuki unseals the power of a tiger-esque demon, whom he names Tora, after 500 years of imprisonment. To save the lives of his friends, Ushio frees Tora from being pinned to a rock by a cursed weapon called the Beast Spear. Together they destroy yokai and begin to form an unconventional, adversarial friendship. By evoking the style of the 1990s, this series focuses purely on being a shonen battle show. There's no extraneous fanservice (at least so far) or a checklist of token trope characters to make character goods for. On the other hand, the downside of being such a product of the 1990s is that it suffers from some of the not-so-great parts of that time. So far the female characters of the show are objects to be rescued or to proclaim their affection for the protagonist. There's no attempt to really provide them (or other supporting cast members) with any real depth. Despite its shortcomings, Ushio and Tora is worth at least checking out if you’re nostalgic for the bygone era of the '90s or if you’re just looking for a no-frills shonen fighting show.